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in the light from the window. He noticed the loose English cut of his
uncle's tweed suit, and the quaint watch-fob which had been picked up
somewhere abroad.

"Do you think he will be caught?" the old man went on.

"I don't know. I can't say," was William's slow reply. "The police have
not - not consulted me as to that. The bank officials don't mention it,
either. They are very considerate. In fact, they are very kind and
anxious to have me feel - feel that they do not hold me responsible for
what happened."

"I suppose so," the elder Browne said, promptly. "I read that you had
made the loss good. Have you?"

"Half of it is paid already, and they know where the rest is coming from
in a few days. They are well secured and satisfied."

"I was going to speak of that debt later," the old man said. "We are all
one family, and a disgrace like this against our name and blood ought to
be shouldered equally, as far as cost is concerned. William, I'm going
to pay half of that shortage. I'll give my check for it to-morrow. I'll
see Bradford in the morning. Do you know, I don't want the scamp brought
back here. I think when the loss is paid the chase will let up. What is
your idea?"

William was astounded by the unexpected offer, so much so that he hardly
noted the questions which followed it.

"I'm afraid," William answered, "that the police will not be influenced
by it. A reward has been offered and the detective force of the city is
trying to win it. The offer has gone to other cities as well."

"Well, I don't want him brought back and tried and sent up," the old man
went on, frowning and jerking his beard. "The papers would be full of it
again, day after day, and everybody would be pitying us. I don't want
any one's pity. I've tried to live decently myself, and at my time of
life I don't deserve all this publicity for no fault of mine. I must say
that I liked the young scamp, even at his worst. You see, I never
thought of his being anything but a drunkard, and a rather good-natured
one at that. He was always doing kind things. I've heard of some.
Michael once told me of quite a sum Charlie advanced for him when he
needed it. Where is Michael?"

"He has gone to New York," Celeste explained. "His mother lives there,
and is not very well again. We are expecting him home soon. Yes, Charlie
was kind to him, and Michael is heartbroken by what has happened."

"Have you discovered what the boy was investing in?" the old man asked.
"How did he lose such a large amount, or did he really take it with him,
as some think?"

William had become pale. He lowered his eyes. He had the look of a man
on trial for his life. The ordeal was more severe than any he had passed
through since his brother left. His friends and associates had seldom
broached the topic, but the present questioner saw no reasons for
reserve. Seeing that her husband was overlooking his uncle's last
question, Celeste answered it.

"I don't think he had a large amount of money when he left," she said,
in crisp, firm tones, and William felt her eyes sweep steadily toward
him as she spoke. "That seems to be out of the question, and I am sure
that William agrees with me."

"I - I've never said anything about that," William stammered, without
looking at either his wife or his uncle. "I only know that Bradford, the
directors, and the - the police department have made no report on that
line."

"Any one could keep such transactions hidden, could they not?" Celeste
asked. "By acting through secret agents outside of Boston, for
instance."

"Yes, oh yes!" the old man answered. "Many men who are important heads
of great concerns and who handle the public's funds often speculate that
way, on the quiet. Banks would lose their depositors if such dealings
were known. Agents can easily be found who will hold their tongues. So
you think the boy may have some associate, Lessie?"

"I didn't say that, exactly," Celeste retorted, coldly. "I only thought
that William might know if such an agent could have been employed."

No reply was forthcoming from the pale man of whom she was speaking, and
suddenly the new-comer turned upon him. "What is the matter here,
anyway?" he almost fiercely demanded.

"Matter?" William asked, with a start. "Where? What do you mean?"

"Why, we don't seem to be getting anywhere," the old man answered,
petulantly. "Both of you somehow seem changed. You don't seem to know
much about the affair. I expected, when I saw you, to learn something
more than has been published, but you both talk in riddles and in a
shifting, roundabout way."

To his astonishment, Celeste got up and left the room, closing the door
behind her.

The two men stared at each other. "You must excuse her," William finally
said. "She is all upset over it. She has shut herself in and doesn't go
out at all now. She has refused to receive several callers. She goes
about with Ruth a little, but that is all."

"Ah, I see - the shame of it, I presume!" the old man said. "Well, I can
sympathize with her. She thought a lot of Charlie. Perhaps she can't
find it in her heart to blame him seriously. Women are that way, you
know. She used to overlook his wild conduct, I remember. Well, well!
Perhaps we might as well not talk about it before her. She seems
different to me - looks as if she were soured on everything and
everybody. Now when I said just now that I was going to pay half the
loss, instead of looking pleased I thought she half resented it."

"You must not blame her," William said, with drawn lips. "She has a lot
to bear. She feels the - the disgrace of it on Ruth's account."

"We all feel the disgrace of it," the old man answered, "but women are
more sensitive, imaginative, and high-strung than men."

"Celeste may have gone to see about your room," William said, just as
the church-bells began ringing. He caught their tones and hoped that
they would somehow interrupt a conversation which he felt he could no
longer sustain. The old man was on his feet now, having risen at the
departure of Celeste, and he began to stride back and forth across the
room. He folded his hands and wrung them together. He muttered some
words which William failed to catch, as he paused at a window, and then
he came back.

"If it is hard for me, I presume it is even harder for you to bear," he
said, aloud. "On the way over, as I sat in the sun in my steamer chair,
with nothing else to think about, I often pictured you there at the bank
with those associates. My reason tells me that they are sympathetic with
you and must feel a certain regret for allowing you to pay back such a
large amount; still, if I may be allowed to say so, you must feel
awkward. You must meet big depositors who - well, who think perhaps that
you ought to have had better judgment than not to have kept track of the
boy's plunging. To have retained a dissipated young scamp like that in
your employment was imprudent in itself, to say nothing of all the
rest."

"They may blame me," William said, reluctantly. "I don't know how they
feel, or how they talk together in private. I only know they still seem
to have confidence in me and in my business judgment. God knows I am
doing the best I can to run things straight, and I keep showing them the
figures. They laugh at me for being so particular, and assure me that it
is unnecessary, but I intend to keep it up."

"This is a hidebound, Puritan community," the old man responded, with a
slow frown, "and I feel that you are against conditions at the bank that
you don't yet fully realize. Bradford and the others are sly,
long-headed business men, and they are not going to tell you all they
think."

William stared, his mouth falling open, a heavy hand splaying over the
cap of his knee. "I don't understand," he faltered. "What could they be
keeping from me?"

"Well" - and the old man seemed to be probing his vocabulary for adroit
words - "it may be like this. In a community of this kind there is
perhaps a certain class of well-meaning people who have the - the
old-fashioned idea that dishonesty runs in the blood of certain
families. I remember that when I was younger I imbibed that idea from
some source or other. It is silly, of course, but it may exist, and if
there is any place that it would be apt to thrive it would be among a
lot of nervous bank depositors and stockholders. Now that is one thing I
have come to fight by my influence _and with my money_."

William's groping, even bewildered, stare showed that he did not
understand what his uncle was driving at, and in a few halting words he
managed to say so.

"Why, it is like this, my boy," the old man explained. "I know Bradford
well, and several of your directors, and when I plank down my half of
the missing money to-morrow I am going to take such a firm, fatherly
stand behind you that - well, two of us fighting for the family honor
will be a stronger force than one, that's all. I stand well here in
Boston, I know that, and I am going to back you."

"I haven't really felt that I was in need of - " William was breaking in,
but his uncle did not suffer him to finish.

"Well, you do need it," he said, sharply. "I can see it in your looks.
You have lost weight. You look nervous. You have an agitated manner. You
speak in jerks. This thing is killing you. Your mind may break under the
strain. Yes, I'm going to hang about the bank. I'll transfer my chief
deposit - and it happens to be a big one just now - from New York to your
bank. I'll buy all the floating stock I can pick up. I'll be in the
market for it at all times. Now - now what do you think of that?"

"It will help wonderfully," William declared, with faintly rising fervor
which in a moment seemed to pass away, for Celeste was entering the
room. She came in softly and resumed the chair she had left a few
minutes before.

"Suppose you tell her what I am going to do," the old man said to his
nephew. "It may brace her up, you know."

A helpless, bewildered expression filled the face of the younger man. He
hesitated, licked his dry lips, and then wiped them with a handkerchief
which he had kept tightly balled in his hand. "You can do it better than
I," he managed to get out. "It is most kind, and - and thoughtful of
you."

"It is nothing but an effort to defend the family honor," the old man
began, and he repeated what he had just said to his nephew, and with
some elaboration of details. "What do you think of that?" he ended, with
a straight look into the face of the quiet listener.

"It is kind of you," she answered, coldly. "It will be a great help to
my husband at the bank. By the way, between you two do you expect to do
anything at all toward helping Charlie?"

"Help him! How can we?" the old man asked, with a startled glance at his
nephew. "Do you mean, my dear, if we intend to help him escape pursuit?"

"If he has to escape, yes. What can he do alone, and out in the world as
he is without friends or money?"

"Money? I guess he has plenty of that, from all accounts," and her uncle
suppressed a mirthless smile. "Don't you think so, my dear?"

"I have an idea that he was almost penniless," Celeste answered, her
eyes on the floor, her thin white hands clasped firmly in her lap.

"Have you any positive evidence of that?" the old man inquired.

But to his surprise, Celeste made no answer beyond saying:

"I have a strong feeling that he needs both friends and money."

"But," her uncle fired up impatiently, "how can we help him? Even if we
could find him, and didn't let the authorities know, we would be aiding,
abetting, and even concealing a lawbreaker. Oh no, my dear, the thing
for us to do is to make it thoroughly known that we have cut him off,
that we are ashamed of the relationship, and that we are honest, if he
isn't."

Celeste shrugged her shoulders; an evanescent sneer curled her lip, but
that was all. Presently she said: "Your room is ready. You must be tired
and dusty. I'm sorry Michael is not here to wait on you, as he used to
do."

As she spoke she rose, and, with stilted courtesy, so did the two men.
The older man started up to his room, leaving Celeste and her husband
face to face.

"That is a wonderful plan your uncle has," she said, coldly. "I presume
it will work well in your behalf. Yes, they will be influenced at the
bank by your uncle's money and backing. If they have ever blamed you for
employing Charlie they won't any more."

"I am glad for Ruth's sake - and for yours," William added. "My affairs
are in better shape now, anyway, and if I were to die - I assure you I
don't feel very strong - you and the child would be fairly well provided
for, along with the heavy life insurance I carry."

"I am not afraid that you will die soon," Celeste said, in a low, firm
voice. "I have the feeling that you will be permitted to live long
enough to straighten out everything in your life that should be attended
to."

He took her arm, leading her toward the door. "I want you to know one
thing - I want you to think of it constantly," he said, tremulously. "I
mean it when I say that I'd rather die than bring trouble down on you
and our little girl. In a situation like this there are some things that
are worse than death. And you must remember that men sometimes take
risks for the sake of those they love that they would not take for
themselves."

The face of the little woman darkened rebelliously. She frowned and drew
her arm from his fawning grasp. She started to speak, but choked up,
and, lowering her head, she went up the stairs hurriedly as if to hide
her rising emotion. Alone in her room, she stood listening to the
ringing of the church-bells. She went to a window and looked out.




CHAPTER XIII


When Mason parted from Charles at Carlin he went straight to New York
without stopping. It had been his intention to remain in the city only a
few days, but, chancing to find his old room at Mrs. Reilly's
unoccupied, he took it; he would wait for letters from home before
deciding what to do in the future. Having sufficient funds to pay his
way for a while, he felt rather independent.

One morning he happened to be passing through Washington Square when he
came face to face with a man whose features were strangely familiar, and
yet Mason could not tell where he had seen him before. It was evident,
too, that the stranger had recognized him; indeed, there seemed to be a
flash of surprised delight in the man's eyes. He passed on, and Mason,
looking back, saw that the man was looking back also, though he quickly
turned his head and walked on, now more slowly.

Seating himself on a park bench and opening a newspaper, Mason, by
looking over its top, kept the man in view. Where had he seen him? he
asked himself. Was it among the professional followers of the circus;
perhaps he was some one he had chatted with at a restaurant? These
questions were unanswered till a little thing happened. It was the
surprising act of the stranger in pausing behind the great arch at the
entrance of the park and peering stealthily at him. In a flash it came
to Mason that it was the plain-clothes detective whom he had first seen
at Madison Square a year before, who had followed him and Charles to
their rooms, and from whom they had so narrowly escaped by flight at
night.

"This is a pretty mess!" Mason muttered. "Now he will perhaps nab me as
a witness and I'll be put through some sort of a third degree to force
me to tell where Brown is and what I know about him. I'll make a move
and see what he will do, anyway."

With this thought, and lowering his paper, Mason rose, sauntered
carelessly along the walk to another bench, and sat down. Looking toward
the arch, he saw the stranger coming in his direction. Opening the
paper, Mason pretended to be reading, though he could still see the
approaching man. He reached him, but, to his surprise, passed on.
However, he came to a halt near by, and, with his hands in the pockets
of his short coat, he stood staring hesitatingly at Mason. "He may be
waiting for a policeman to help him take me in," was Mason's dejected
mental comment. "I think I am in for trouble this time sure. I don't see
any bluecoat about. I wonder if I'd better make a run for it?"

He decided that such a course was impossible; the detective would blow a
whistle and some one in the crowd would stop him; besides, the man
looked as if he might be swift of foot. "We thwarted him before, and he
will run no chances this time," Mason decided, gloomily, and he began
drawing mental pictures of himself seated in the midst of a group of
uniformed officers bent on locating the man in whose company he had been
seen. The big price on the head of his friend was, no doubt, still
offered, and that was inducement for extra work. Mason decided that he
would lie with as straight a face as possible, though he was afraid that
he might become tangled in his statements; the detectives might uncover
discrepancies which could be turned against himself. There was no doubt
that he was in a "pickle," as he put it, and he was both angry and
alarmed. Charles had never alluded during their long friendship to the
published charges against him, but somehow Mason had come to believe
that his friend was not guilty.

The stranger, with what looked like an absolutely timid expression of
face and mien, was coming toward him. There was nothing to do but to
brazen it out, and Mason braced himself for the most difficult ordeal of
his life. The man stopped in front of him, bent forward, and said:

"I beg your pardon, sir, but it seems to me that your face is somewhat
familiar, and I was wondering if we have ever met before. I am a
stranger in the city, sir, but I have an idea that I saw you a year ago
here in New York."

"It may be," Mason answered, conscious that he must make as few
admissions as possible and yet not appear to be keeping back anything.
Suddenly his line of procedure became clear to him. He would simply say
to this man, and his associates, that he had not seen Charles for more
than a year. How could they prove otherwise, for if they had known
Charles to be with the circus they would have taken him? That point was
clear and Mason now felt more confident. He found that he could calmly
return the stranger's bland stare. In fact, he began to study the
fellow. He fancied he knew the exact spot under the man's lapel where
his metal badge was concealed.

"It was in the crowd at Madison Square where I saw you," the stranger
went on, as if eager to remind Mason of the fact. "You were listening to
the speakers."

"Yes, I remember going there," Mason said, taking out a box of
cigarettes. "Do you happen to have a match about you?"

The man fished one from a vest pocket with fingers which seemed to
quiver slightly, and there was no doubt as to the look of suspended
excitement in his mild eyes. Mason decided that he would not offer him a
cigarette. "I think I recall seeing you there," he remarked. "In fact,
as you passed me just now your face seemed familiar. You say you are a
stranger in the city?"

"Yes, I only come here once in a while."

Silence fell. A lame Italian was playing a wheezy hand-organ at the end
of the walk, and a group of ill-clad children were dancing near by.
Charles wondered what his companion would do if he suddenly got up and
left. Would he then declare himself in his official capacity or dog his
steps as formerly? Mason somehow wanted the thing settled for good and
all. How could he sleep or have any peace of mind with an uncertainty
like that hanging over him?

"I think I may venture to be plain with you, sir," the stranger broke
the silence to say. "The day I saw you you were in the company of a - a
young man that I desire very much to meet."

"Oh, let me see," and Mason deliberately flicked the ash from his
cigarette. "Who was I with that day? I ran with several chaps about that
time."

The stranger described Charles accurately, and all but held his breath
as he waited.

"Oh, _that_ fellow!" Mason exclaimed, carelessly. "He was a stranger to
me. I met him by accident at the house I roomed at. So you want to meet
him?"

"Yes, very much. He is an old friend of mine."

"I see," Mason answered. "Well, I'm sorry I can't help you find him. He
and I parted about that time and I have not seen him since. I'm rather
sorry, too, for I found him a rather agreeable chap."

"So you don't know where he is?" The stranger's face fell, and a shadow
of absolute gloom seemed to come into his earnest eyes. "When I saw you
just now, sir, I hoped that you might put me on the track of him."

"He dies hard," Mason mused, now more at his ease. "No, I can't help
you," he said, aloud. "If I remember rightly he said something about
working his way to England on a cattle-ship."

"England? My God! then I'll not find him at all!" the stranger sighed.

"It would be a difficult job," Mason went on, with real pleasure in the
tale he was concocting. Then suddenly he was emboldened to pursue
different tactics. "Say," he said, "I think you are the man I saw
hanging about our house the night after I noticed you in Madison Square.
Am I right?"

Something like a sigh escaped the lips of the stranger. Surely, if he
was a detective, he was either a poor one or a most accomplished actor.
Mason suddenly decided that he was dealing with the latter when his
companion answered:

"Yes, I followed you both to that house, sir. I wanted a word with my
friend. I tried to catch his eye in the crowd at Madison Square, but
failed."

"But if you wanted to speak to him, or see him, why didn't you do it
while he was with me?" Mason demanded, with no little pride now in his
skill at cross-examination, and a growing sense of his own security.

"There were reasons why I should not," was the slow answer. "I wanted to
see him alone, sir. I watched the house that night till - " The stranger
paused as if he had said more than he intended.

"Till I came out and made you run away?" Mason smiled. "I didn't intend
to spoil your game, whatever it was."

"I came back and watched the house after that," the man went on,
dejectedly. "I saw you both come out with your things. I followed you
up-town and across to the river. I saw you at the boat-house. I didn't
know you intended to cross over till your boat had started; then it was
too late. You see, sir, I am pretty sure that you do know more about my
friend than you are willing to tell. I've got to know more about him,
and I'm going to stick to you till you help me locate him. You see, I
don't believe the story about the cattle-ship. Men don't go to New
Jersey in a small boat at night to ship for England. Now, do they, sir,
really?"

"But you see, it was after we got across that he thought of England,"
Mason added, carelessly. "Come on, my friend, spit it out. What is it
that you have up your sleeve, anyway?"

"I am sorry, sir," the stranger answered, regretfully, "but I cannot
take you fully into my confidence. You see, if it were my affair alone
it would be different, but, as it is, I cannot say more."

"Sly dog," Mason thought. "I've seen a few detectives at their game, but
I never knew that any of them ever played the part of absolute idiocy to
gain a point." "Well," he added, aloud, "we may as well change the
subject. Have you ever noticed how gracefully these street kids dance?
Watch that slim girl waltzing with the tiny tot. Why, she - "

"Excuse me, sir," the stranger broke in, "but I am not satisfied about
what you have told me. I don't want to doubt your word, sir, but this is
a very grave matter. I have been looking for you for a year, hoping that
if I met you I'd learn something about my young friend. You yourself
make me doubt the story of the cattle-ship. It is the way you tell it, I
suppose. I think, sir, that we are playing at cross-purposes. I'm sure,
sir, that my young friend must have placed confidence in you. He showed
that, it seems to me, sir, by leaving the city with you as he did that
night. Nobody but two close friends would act as you did. You see, I
kept you in sight all the way to the boat-house. I crossed over myself
the next morning, and looked all about over there, but saw nothing of
you." Mason stood up. He was no longer afraid of the man, and yet he was
irritated by his persistence. He looked at his watch. "I must be going,"
he said. "I have an appointment down-town."

The stranger was on his feet also. "Don't leave me like this, sir," he
implored. "I have reasons to believe that our young friend would be glad
to see me if he could safely do so. Somehow I feel that he is here in
the city and that you know where he is."


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